Commentary: Lobo might be able to end Honduran crisis

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo's inauguration was a pretty lonely affair, with most Latin American presidents shunning the ceremony because of the country's 2009 coup. But judging from what I'm told by key Latin American and U.S. officials, Lobo's isolation won't last long.

In a telephone interview earlier this week, Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza told me that there is a "good climate" for lifting Honduras' suspension from the OAS "relatively soon." He added, "I hope that it won't take us more than a few months to make a decision."

Only two Latin American heads of state -- Panama's Ricardo Martinelli and the Dominican Republic's Leonel Fernandez -- attended Lobo's inauguration ceremony. The Obama administration sent State Department Latin American affairs chief Arturo Valenzuela.

But Spain, a big player in the region, was represented by its No. 2 official at its embassy in Honduras, and most Latin American countries sent low-level delegations. Venezuela and its allies shunned the ceremony, following the Honduran Congress' decision hours earlier to withdraw the country's membership from the Venezuela-sponsored ALBA bloc.

Latin American countries and the United States had suspended Honduras from the OAS in July 2009, following the coup that placed de facto president Roberto Micheletti in power. Micheletti argued that the Supreme Court had issued an order to arrest ousted president Manuel Zelaya because the latter had violated constitutional rules that prohibited him from seeking a new term.

But the international climate toward Honduras changed in recent months, as the de facto Micheletti regime held free elections that had been planned since before the coup. The United States and several governments have since moved toward recognizing Lobo, citing the fact that most of Latin America's current democracies were born out of elections convened by de facto regimes.

In a telephone interview, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who was the first mediator in the Honduran crisis, told me that "Within the next few months, little by little, the countries that agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties with Honduras will do so. There will be some that probably won't, but the immense majority of countries in the world will."

Honduras' suspension from the OAS is hurting the country badly because it prevents it from getting desperately-needed funds from the Inter-American Development Bank and other financial institutions, he said.

International sanctions cost Honduras more than $400 million, according to Honduran business community estimates.

Arias added that he is recognizing the Lobo government, but didn't go to the inauguration because outgoing de facto president Micheletti was still legally in power before the transfer of power. "If Micheletti would have had the good taste to step aside, more presidents would have gone to the inauguration," Arias said.

Asked when the United States will lift its economic sanctions on Honduras, senior State Department Latin American affairs official Craig Kelly told me that no timing has been set, pending the Lobo government's fulfillment of promises to establish a government of national reconciliation, and create a truth commission to look into the events surrounding the June 28 coup.

But Kelly added that "We are encouraged by [Lobo's] commitment to take those steps, and we look forward to a very positive relationship with Honduras under President Lobo."

My opinion: I don't agree with conservatives who are depicting former de facto president Micheletti as a hero, for preventing his country from falling into Chávez's hands.

Micheletti broke the rule of law when he ordered the ousted president flown out of the country instead of allowing him a fair trial at home, as the Honduran law required. And Micheletti put his ego before the country's needs by needlessly clinging to power until the last minute, instead of resigning to allow a neutral president to oversee the transition of power.

But Lobo is likely a different story. What I heard from Insulza, Arias, Kelly and others -- and the fact that even El Salvador leftist president Mauricio Funes says he will recognize the new Honduran government -- suggests that Honduras will soon be fully accepted back into the democratic fold.

Now, one can only hope that the high economic cost paid by Honduras for its 2009 coup will teach a lesson both to power-hungry demagogues and to potential coup plotters in the region.


Andres Oppenheimer is a Miami Herald syndicated columnist and a member of The Miami Herald team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. He also won the 1999 Maria Moors Cabot Award, the 2001 King of Spain prize, and the 2005 Emmy Suncoast award. He is the author of Castro's Final Hour; Bordering on Chaos, on Mexico's crisis; Cronicas de heroes y bandidos, Ojos vendados, Cuentos Chinos and most recently of Saving the Americas. E-mail Andres at aoppenheimer @ herald.com Live chat with Oppenheimer every Thursday at 1 p.m. at The Miami Herald.

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